While drugs and alcohol do stimulate reward centers in the brain that increase dependence, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism find that drinking and drug use deliver feel-bad messages, too -- feelings of anxiety and tension that can only be eased by more consumption.
The target is the brain's stress center, whose circuitry is "stuck in overdrive" from years of addictive substance use -- specifically, a chemical known as CRF (corticotropin-releasing factor) that kicks up your stress level in challenging situations, like when you're under deadline. CRF's other name is the "misery transmitter," because it appears to cause the anxiety of addicts that keeps them locked into their habit.
Researchers are experimenting with drugs to stop CRF from stimulating the brain's stress centers. Read more.